Kona 2013 – 4-Time World Champ Lisbeth Kenyon’s Race Report
Late-breaking race report here on Kona #7. 1996 was my first one after which I took a triple-baby pause and then raced it 6 years in a row. Every year I intend to take a Kona-break and this time I really mean it. After last year’s epic meltdown, however; ending up 4th AG after having lead for 136 miles, I wanted to come back and have a race I could feel good about regardless of placing (thanks Coach for subliminally putting that in my head). This meant taking an honest look at why I failed last year. And I say honest because I sure had come up with a lot of excuses for my disappointing race.
Last year’s big race was Norseman Xtreme, 10 weeks before Kona (race video here). I came into Norseman having trained in the 4th flattest state but with a lot of strength work to try to make up for the lack of steep terrain. I had a great race in Norseman and as result felt that if I can do well at Norseman from training on flats, I can do anything. Feeling invincible was my first mistake. So my Kona build lacked the ever important post ironman re-balancing of my strength and mobility. Yes, the core sessions were in there as always but I justified it to myself with time limitation related excuses. What I did I rushed through with bad form. My hip flexors are particularly tight if I don’t maintain the (boooring) work and my glutes are traditionally weak; those are my trouble-spots as I sit a lot at work. End result – I went into Kona with confidence that did not match my readiness. Couple that with an extraordinarily tough wind and heat year that had me dehydrated plus being too aggressive on the bike – I started going backwards during the marathon. It is never a good idea to set a time goal for Kona. Madam Pele scoffs at time goals.
Fast forward to this year, Kona was intimidating me once again. But Coach Al and Todd helped me get my race goals sorted – the focus would be on preparation, planning and executing those plans perfectly without regard to overall time or what my competitors were doing (at least until the 2nd half of the run anyway). So I made the trip to PAP (Pursuit Athletic Performance) to dial in the circuits I needed for my current strength and compensations and to make sure I was doing them right – it was humbling to have to revert back to the very basic and easiest versions or exercises. Like the half front planking with reach making sure the stick across your back does not move at all – such an easy concept but impossible to do right if you compensate. But yet – as my mother said when she saw me in action – every single person in her gym obviously does with wrong form when she realized how much I had to concentrate to get a tiny movement like that perfect.
We started the Kona build 10 weeks prior with an average of 15 training hours per week (the relatively low volume is due to time constraints but is offset with some mighty high intensity sessions) and a couple of 18 hour weeks. To minimize pool time I used the VASA increasingly – our local pool had been torn down and rebuilt so this had been my sole swim option all winter anyway. It’s amazing how well it translates to the real thing. When the Bay warmed up, most swim sessions were open water. I also started doing track with pure runners at Brown University – I can’t thank the Ronald McDonald House Running Club coaches and runners enough for the support and comradery. These sessions got me so far out of my comfort zone and I was humbled at how far these folks can fly with each step. I could tell it was beneficial to mingle with the fast.
Now to some bad luck along the way. A slight setback in June where I lost 1/5 of my blood with a visit to the ER; no surgery needed, just iron supplements to get me un-anemic again (freak female related stuff). Then one month before Kona I came down with Shingles (we call it ‘Hell’s Fire’ in Norway for good reasons, please let me never get this again). The nerves wrapped around my back were inflamed; a pain that is always on during the course of the illness. Ibuprofen around the clock. Careful swimming was possible. Biking was interesting – getting my leg over the top tube was a dilemma but once I was in position I could bike. I just couldn’t put my foot on the ground to support my body weight as it put too much pressure on my back when moving from a ‘floating’ position to a weight bearing one, therefore much of the biking was done indoors. The long rides were outdoors and Peter Russo who was also building for Kona would make sure intersections were clear while I was circling. Running for some reason felt fine, something I can’t explain. The whole affair was a pretty good reminder to keep good posture – once I moved wrong I got shooting pains. 10 days before the race I was pain free but a disaster movement-wise. Coach Al made a rush trip to RI to evaluate the damage and this was extremely critical as it turned out. Had he not redirected those last few strengthening/stability training sessions and helped me “turn on” and activate the stabilizers around my hips, I probably would not have had the same result.
Kona week – heat acclimating and getting the body straight were the focus; 3x per day I worked on my new strength circuit. Not the kind most people associate with ‘panic training’. Staying off the feet as much as possible during pre week is always tough but I did a good job this year. 3 days out I felt really good but then had a bout of bad luck again during our daily swim back from the Kona Coffee Boat. The person in front of me decided to dive down, he kicked straight up and hit my head with a hard blow. I saw some cartoon style gray stars and everything became quiet it seemed for a second. For the 3rd time this year I thought there goes my race. It was a violent kick and what’s weird is the person never checked on me. I hope his foot hurts a lot because in writing moment a month later the bone by my eye still aches and it hurts to roll my eyes.
Enough of the soap opera drama, race day was a perfect day. Celebrity racer Chef Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen walked by me during early morning transition and whispered “you have a good race, OK?” Sir, yes Sir – having watched his show and seen the consequence of a bad pie I knew a good race was a must. There was no swell during the swim and optimal conditions. I lined up in the middle of it all and must admit I was concerned about contact to my head. I felt vulnerable. I tried to avoid the flailing arms and legs and was pleased when I got to the turnaround boat with minimal roughness. Because of the lack of swell, I was able to sight the buoys and swim straight. My biggest wish for this particular race is more frequent and taller buoys – if there is a swell you often can’t see the next buoy. I took my time in T1 to actually sit down, get my heart rate down and drink a lot of water which was served to me by my fabulous team of 3 ladies. I could have spent all day in there being pampered. Swim 1:03.
The bike was hot as usual but fast. We had no winds up to Hawi nor cross winds coming down – a fabulous treat it was! We had a nasty headwind on our way back along the Queen K for a couple of hours, maybe less. At the feedbag hand-off in Hawi I had another ‘there goes my race’ drama. Somehow my special needs bag hit my aerobars and I flew over my handlebars. Good grief. What’s amazing is all the things I had time to think about during the actual flight before I hit the ground. I went through several emotions from fright to disappointment to shit happens acceptance. I rolled shoulder first and the bike landed on me. The volunteers swiftly got me up and on my way after checking that the helmet was intact. Some time later a girl in my age group, Diana H passed me going very strong – I picked it up trying to keep her in my sight but the pace was too fast and my master plan was to be more conservative than ever – I could see she was working very hard and thought (hoped) maybe she would come back later. I didn’t know who else might be in front of us. Bike 5:15.
Run – my plan was to be overly conservative first half and then go. We had a nice cloud cover early on which was another fabulous treat. It made a big difference. Still it was hot but instead of 107F it was 87F. It was a very humid day, the dew point was 72F. Overall it was a much easier year than last. At the 5 mile turnaround I was surprised to see Diana H only about 1 1/2 minutes ahead. I passed her up the road and we established that there were no one else in our age group ahead. I told her to stay strong (but not too strong). I figured the next girl in our age group was 11 minutes back, but holy cow she looked good! She was running fast and I tried not to panic. She told me the next day she is a 2:52 open marathoner… I kept my pace comfortable because I felt with all the happenings I didn’t have a big margin of error if I wanted to stay strong and steady. I was gun shy from previous years and I started doubting myself. Up the long steep hill at mile 10 to the Queen K and this is where I walked for the first time – through the whole length of the aid station to make sure I was completely caught up on hydration. My stomach felt good. I saw Todd and Peter (who ended up with a torn hamstring right before Kona and was spectating) and they yelled that I looked good. At this point – half way – the plan was to pick it up and just go for it. My fitness should have been up to the task but I was still afraid to blow up like so many times before so I kept it comfortable. Into the Energy Lab and down to the 17.8 mile turn around where you again can start looking where the competition is. About 45 seconds later here comes the German girl who was 11 minutes back at mile 5 – crap!
We had 8 miles to go and this is where I actually said to myself – 2nd is good! I grabbed my special needs bag which contained a couple of Glucose Shot bottles which I had picked up in the diabetic section at Wal-Mart. This was something new I had tried in training as my stomach always gives me issues late in the marathon. Glucose doesn’t require the stomach to do any work as it goes straight into your blood stream – and so it did! I told myself – yes I was talking out loud at this point – that if she is to pass me I am going to make her work for it. In order to feel good about 2nd place I had to work as hard as I could in order to truthfully say I did all that I could. I picked up my cadence and ran my best up the one mile hill and out of the Energy Lab. I took small sips of the Glucose and started throwing down coke and water at aid stations, wow I felt good and happy. I concentrated on my form and tried to stay tall. This is typically the point where people are losing it big time but we had planned my whole race around feeling good here and being able to let it rip. I saw Todd and Peter again at mile 22 and wondered where they had been – I didn’t realize they had closed the road at mile 13 for spectators this year, which was mile 22 going back. Hopefully they will change this back. It was too lonely. They yelled that I was looking good but I yelled back,”she is coming she is coming”! I pressed on. A little later Diana H’s husband appeared (I know as he introduced himself) and told me I was killing it – I was not able to respond at the moment but realized later that this person was a class act, motivating me in a time of battle. Todd and Peter appeared while I was running up the last one mile hill and informed me I was now 4-5 minutes ahead! What? HUGE relief – the strategy to be patient was working. I could relax and enjoy the feeling. I was proud that I had finally executed in a way that allowed me to feel strong in the last miles. This had never happened before. The high fives from kids were flying down the finisher chute; the happiest of endings (alongside Norseman of course). Run 3:37 Total 10:03:26
Lessons learned: Madame Pele requires respect. Trust your coach. Don’t take your past performance for granted. It’s the little things that may end up making the biggest difference. Big thanks to my long-time loyal support: Todd of course and Coach Al, FuelBelt, Pursuit Athletic Performance, Steven Harad (bike sponsor), PowerBar, Speedfil, VASA, and ISM. And last but not least to this crowd at home – my mom who flew in from Norway with the troll trio.